16th SOS marks 40th anniversary

USAF photo The AC-130 gunship’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and force protection. Missions in close air support are troops in contact, convoy escort and urban operations.

By Tech. Sgt. Sheri Kangas: 1st SOW Public Affairs

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — The 16th Special Operations Squadron is having a busy year. Not only are they in the midst of celebrating their 40th anniversary, they are also preparing for their impending move to Cannon Air Force Base.

The anniversary celebrates not only the 16th SOS, but also the 40th anniversary of Air Force gunships. “We are celebrating the anniversary with the entire gunship family,” said Lt. Col. Jason Miller, 16th SOS operations officer.

While many changes take place in the span of 40 years, the 16th SOS performs the exact same mission it did when it was stood up. “We are absolutely dedicated to this mission,” Col. Miller said. “We provide precision fire support and close air support to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in harm’s way. Nothing has changed in this respect. We do this closer and more accurately than anyone else.”

While the 16th SOS has successful completed their mission for 40 years and will continue their journey for years to come, some of their accomplishments stand above the rest.

One of these events includes the time Spectre moved to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, July 19, 1974 as part of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, and concluded its involvement in Southeast Asia from that location. Spectre began supporting the evacuations of Saigon, Phnom Penh and figured prominently in the rescue of the Mayaguez. “Spectre’s distinguished record in Southeast Asia was not achieved without cost; we honor the memories of 52 aircrew members who were killed in action,” Col. Miller said.

Another notable mission for the 16th SOS came after Sept. 11, 2001. “Following the terrorist attacks, Spectre deployed on Nov. 11, 2001 to an undisclosed location near Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom,” Col. Miller said. “The 16th SOS is still there today supporting coalition ground troops as part of the Global War on Terrorism.”

The day after arriving in Afghanistan, the 16th SOS attacked Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces near the city of Konduz in support of Northern Alliance forces, and was directly responsible for the city’s surrender the next day. On Nov. 26, 2001, Spectre was called in to put down a rebellion at the prison fort of Qual-a-Jinga. While supporting the U.S. and allied forces throughout the night with 40mm and 105mm rounds, the Spectre succeeded in smashing the rebellion of Taliban and Al-Qaeda Prisoners-of-War.

In March 2002, the 16th SOS provided 39 crucial combat missions in support of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. With only three aircraft and three crews, the squadron amassed 322 combat hours in 12 days, resulting in 45 enemy kills, nine vehicles destroyed, 11 damaged vehicles, and 12 destroyed and 25 damaged buildings. During the intense fighting, the squadron expended more than 1,300 40mm and 1,200 105mm rounds, saving American lives with quick, decisive actions. Spectre crews repeatedly displayed tremendous heroism to support troops in contact. Their actions earned them the 2002 Mackay trophy, and the 2002 Air Force aviator valor awards. In addition, in 2002 the 16th SOS was the third most deployed unit in the Air Force.

Nowadays, the squadron has newer equipment and technology to enable them to see and communicate better, fire more accurately, and with precision targeting. “We have newer equipment to help us hide from the enemy and defeat his weapons. But we still use the same aircraft, same guns, and same ferocity which make a gunship one of the most feared assets on the battlefield,” Col. Miller said.

Now the time has come for the 16th SOS to begin making history from their soon-to-be new home, Cannon AFB. As with all moves, there will be changes in the way the 16th SOS operates. “There will be plenty of changes flying and training out of Cannon AFB. Our training plans, sortie lengths, and squadron operations will be adjusted to account for the density altitude at Cannon,” Col. Miller said.

“We look forward to training on the Melrose Range and to take advantage of the new targets the 27th Special Operations Wing has placed in the Spirit and Jockey impact areas. We also plan on taking advantage of some of the training opportunities in closer proximity to Cannon than Hurlburt,” the Colonel said. “Finally, we look forward to providing training to ground units based in the western part of the country.”

The 16th SOS is ready to go. “We are already in execution. With such a big family move, anticipation, excitement, and anxiety are all common,” Col. Miller said. “As this is our 40th anniversary, the move to Cannon now becomes part of our proud history and we will accomplish this move to Cannon with the same intensity, dedication, and panache our previous Spectre’s accomplished their every endeavor.”